Celia (DeKorne) Wierenga
1890 - 1940
I was 10 when she died. I remember the day very vividly. I was in about the 4th or 5th grade at Harrison Park Elementary school in Grand Rapids, MI. It seems that one day a month school was dismissed early for the Parent Teacher Association meeting. I looked forward to that day.The family was split up because dad had decided to go to Colorado where my mother was dying of tuberculosis. I was staying with my sister Jeanne Decker who, with husband Mart and daughter, Mary lived on Arianna street. It was a cloudy, cold day and I recall sitting on the cement stoop 'enjoying.' my free time away from school.
Mart was the one who broke the news that my mother had died. (Many years later he called me at my place of employment to inform me that my dad had died.) I didn't cry, just ran around to the back of the house and sat on the cold grass. I had no idea she was going to die. I knew she was sick and gone for a long time, but death had never entered my mind. That evening after dinner I was helping with the dishes and playing (probably teasing) my niece Mary who was only one or two at the time. Sister Jeanne said she was happy that I was able to handle this situation so well, but “would I please quiet down.”
That night Bob and I slept at the Oosterhaven home . . good friends of our family. We slept in the same bed. No words were spoken but I heard Bob sniffle and that was all it took to open the floodgates for me. It was beginning to sink in just what had happened. I have no recollection of talking with anyone about my mothers death or being comforted, although I'm sure both must have occurred.
I have no memory of the funeral, only my mother in a casket in the bedroom (I think) of our home on Leonard Street. I avoided that room and the family and guests that came to visit. Only a few days later when preparations were complete to remove the body, did I dare look at her in the casket. I was struck by the absence of movement. I concentrated on her chest, hoping to see a sign of breathing. It didn't happen. She didn't look like my mother . . it couldn't be my mother, there must be a mistake. I ran to the backyard and cried. Many years later after Mart’s call I hurried to the hospital where my dad had just died. I asked to go into the room where the nurse had just finished covering his body. I saw movement and thought about how I had wished for that movement when I viewed my mother, and ran out of the room shouting that he was still alive and why were they covering him. The nurse, or maybe Mart took me aside and explained that sometimes there is reflected motion that comes during the last throes of death. Or sometimes people wish for it so badly that they just think there is movement. He really was dead. I went into the rest room and cried.
My earliest memory of mother was on April Fools day about 1935. I
was in kindergarten and remember unrolling my mat for nap time and going out for recess. I mistakenly thought the day had ended and went home. Mother was surprised, but pleased to see me. Lunch that day was my favorite . . . Pancakes. Much to my surprise (and enjoyment) my first bite brought me in contact with a piece of string and a delightful “April Fool” from mother!
I remember Sunday walking as a family to Trinity church, me holding Gordy’s hand and teasing as usual. Passing one of the storefronts a brick to the window display was loose and I stuck my hand through the opening and pretended my mitten to be a mouse and enjoyed scaring him!
Probably earlier, I remember sitting on mothers lap in church. She had a fur around her neck. It was soft and as I snuggled closer I felt safe and secure, and loved. The same feeling I had with my “bobo.” It was the silk end of a blanket that gave me great comfort as I sucked my thumb. I recall that this went on far too long and became a source of embarrassment.
I was careful to avoid the claws of this fur piece that draped my mother’s neck. I didn’t like that feeling at all! I remember her softly rubbing my arm and how careful I was not to move for fear she would stop. That was the best part of going to church.
The dinner table held special memories, especially Sunday dinner. It was usually roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. Apparently not being a very good eater I was enticed to be creative in preparing food. I would first create a pond with the potatoes and gravy and then try to build a bridge with the roast beef. Invariably the “bridge” would sink and I had no other choice but to eat it. On one occasion I tried to prop it up with carrots and peas and in the process spilled the entire dish on to my lap. For a few days thereafter I was called “Carrots and peas.”
This all occurred in a “breakfast nook” in our Leonard street home, where, as the youngest, I was forced to take the least accessible seat around the back of the table.
Even today the smell of freshly baked bread brings a memory of mother in the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon . . . which led to the traditional Saturday meal of hamburgs on freshly baked buns and baked beans. It became a family tradition which continues to this day. When she was in the hospital we could count on relatives to bring fresh baked goods.
Saturday evening was bath night and preparation for Sunday. This meant lighting the hot water heater in the basement. I don’t think we had a gas furnace (I remember the coal man, the coal shoot) but it was my duty to light the pilot light to the hot water heater and then stand back as the main burner took hold . . . a very scary thing for a little guy. It was not unusual to use the same bath water as my brother
I have very few memories, in those days, of our family being relaxed
and just enjoying each other . . . and life. I was too young to understand the implications of the depression. I later learned that dad traded had labor on my doctor's house in exchange for the ear operation he performed. On one particular warm August evening I recall riding my new large, three wheeled bike around the block. My parents enjoyed watching. I think it was a birthday gift. We were a happy family.
Tuberculosis was a household word and worked it's way into many family conversations. It was the first illness that I learned about. Mother died from it, brothers Bud and Bob were afflicted and it was always in the back of my mind that there was a strong possibility I, too, would get it. I recall frequent visits to “the clinic” with its black and white checkered floor . . . waiting to be called for the dreaded skin test and then the long wait for the “positive” or “negative” report. I could never remember which was good and which was bad. I remember responding to the inevitable question “what was the result of your test,” with “not good and I need the X-ray.”
The rest of what I know about my mother came from my dad, siblings and relatives. Only in recent years have I gained possession of many family photos. Being number six of seven children I now accept the premise that the younger the child the fewer the photos. So I longed for a photo of just me and my mother. Someone, recently, finally provided me the one shown above. . . the only one I know ofI’ve carefully studied my photo collection, trying to piece together an image of who mother was before she was my mother. And wonder why I never call her 'mom' or 'mommy'. Maybe she died too soon to impress upon me the significance of being my 'mommy.'